Watchdog calls for anticorruption bureau

CORRUPTION Watch has called for the reintroduction of a clause providing for the establishment of a national anticorruption bureau in the Public Administration Management Bill‚ which made provision for this in its original form.

The bill‚ which seeks to impose far-reaching changes in the creation of a “capable state”‚ has already been adopted by the National Council of Provinces and is scheduled for adoption by the National Assembly this week.

It provides for the imposition of national norms and standards across all three spheres of government‚ allowing for the transfer and secondment of staff from one sphere to another; the creation of a national school of government; and the integration of government IT systems. The bill also provides for the establishment of an ethics‚ integrity and disciplinary unit‚ and an office of standards and compliance within the national department. It also prohibits public servants from conducting business with the state‚ or being the director of a company doing so.

The anticorruption bureau was replaced by provisions creating a technical assistance unit within the D epartment of P ublic S ervice and A dministration. This unit would not have the same investigative powers conferred on the anticorruption bureau‚ which was also given the power to institute disciplinary proceedings against corrupt officials.

Corruption Watch does not believe the proposed unit will be effective in tackling corruption in the government. The body’s executive director‚ Dave Lewis‚ and the head of its legal and investigations unit‚ Nicola Whittaker‚ argued in a submission on the bill to Parliament’s portfolio committee on public service and administration that the government was constitutionally required to establish effective mechanisms to combat corruption.

Mr Lewis said the bureau “was a laudable attempt” to do this and did not contravene the constitution by intruding on the autonomy of provincial and local government — as claimed. In terms of the constitution‚ the national government was empowered to make laws for the structuring and functioning of the public service as a whole.

A more robust approach was needed to tackle corruption in the public service‚ Corruption Watch told MPs on Friday. Mr Lewis said he regretted the substantial changes made to the bill since it was first released for public comment in June last year.

“The data on the number of public sector employees placed on lengthy suspensions for alleged corruption-related offences demonstrates the acute difficulty that public sector agencies have in investigating these allegations and in exercising discipline‚” the organisation said. “The new bill is a key opportunity to address these serious problems. This opportunity should not be lost. We need to bring back the anti-corruption bureau with its vital investigative powers.”

Corruption Watch welcomed the ban on public officials conducting business with the state and called for more resources to monitor this novel legal provision. However‚ Ms Whittaker said Corruption Watch was “greatly disappointed” with the removal of a provision in the bill for a “cooling-off” period of 12 months before public officials who were involved directly in the awarding of contracts could take up employment with the service provider involved‚ or be appointed to its board of directors.

This was necessary‚ she said‚ to protect state proprietary information‚ limit the potential influence of the prospect of a lucrative private employment opportunity in public decision-making‚ as well as prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption.

The National Education‚ Health and Allied Workers Union expressed concern about the secondment of staff from one sphere of government to another without their consent‚ while the Western Cape provincial government urged the inclusion of the need for co-operation between the spheres in the implementation of the bill.

The Open Democracy Advice Centre wanted the technical assistance unit to have the power to institute disciplinary action in cases where the head of a department failed to do so. – Linda Ensor © BDlive 2013

 

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